Public accommodations discrimination can happen when someone is denied access to the facilities or services of a:
- Public place, including local and state government
Discrimination can happen when services are denied outright, such as when someone is refused admission. It can also happen when someone is denied the same service others receive, such as being charged a different price or offered less service.
It may also be illegal discrimination when a physical barrier or other issue makes services inaccessible to someone who has a physical disability.
Illegal public accommodations discrimination must be based on race, color, sex, religious creed, national origin, ancestry, handicap or disability, relationship to a person with a disability, or the use, handling, or training of a guide or support animal for disability.
Examples of illegal discrimination in public accommodations include, but are not limited to, the following:
- A restaurant owner refuses to serve a customer wearing religious headgear
- A delivery service will not deliver to a largely minority neighborhood but serves surrounding non-minority neighborhoods
- A bus driver refuses to allow a minority person on the bus
- A municipality will not provide handicap-accessible parking to residents with disabilities
- A university does not provide a wheelchair-accessible entrance to a classroom building
- A “private membership” club solicits members from the general public but denies admission based on race or religion
Public accommodations discrimination based on other factors may be unfair or unethical but not specifically prohibited by law. If it isn’t clear whether your situation is illegal discrimination, an investigation will determine the facts as the law applies.
Pennsylvania discrimination laws specifically define the terms “public accommodation,” “handicap or disability,” and “accessible.” The legal definition may differ from other definitions of these terms. For example, a private club may fall under the legal definition of public accommodation, or “disability” is not limited to those receiving government disability benefits.
If you feel you have been the victim of illegal public accommodations discrimination, file a complaint or report a bias incident by:
- Calling (717) 787-4410 | (717) 787-7279 TTY users only phone, or
- Visiting one of our three regional offices. (Offices are currently closed due to COVID-19 precautions, but drop-off boxes for questionnaires and other papter work are provided at the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh offices.)
The following form may also be used to start to file a public accommodations discrimination complaint. Download and complete the form, then email it to PHRC@pa.gov, or mail it to your closest regional office.
If your complaint is disability-related, complete and submit the following form to authorize the release of information related to your disability to PHRC investigators: